It takes about five minutes of crying over Zoom with Hazel before my internet goes haywire and my laptop crashes. Hazel's bony face, covered in a plastery layer of tears, still lights up the screen for something like four seconds before her image disintegrates into a million pixelations and my screen goes black. I desperately smash the keypad, and when that doesn't wake it up, I turn to vigorously shaking it. Fifty-year-old piece of crap. I slap the computer closed and lifelessly toss it to the left of my couch, beyond worrying if I'll break it. I crawl from the sweat-stained couch and reach for my phone, which I'm sure I left on the coffee table. And when my shaking hands finally get a grip on the shiny plastic case, I scroll hastily through my contacts list before I can make out the name Hazel through the wobbly tears in my eyes.
Hzel cal; mw.
Great. I can hardly type.
Select all. Backspace.
And I take a stab at it again.
Hazl. Call me.
Despite the conspicuous typo, it's good enough.
Call mom. call lonni. call dad.
Hitting each word is painful.
call me. please.
And I lose my grip on the phone case. It clatters indifferently on the ground before it bounces off the floorboards and sinks into the threadbare carpet. Didn't hit send. Hazel won't call if you don't hit send. Have to hit send. I stare coldly at the phone, capsizing beneath the stained carpet that's probably multiplying with bacteria by the second. I can't hit send. I can't move. Can't breathe. Can't think. See. Hear. Worthless. I'm worthless. I should be calling Hazel, listening to her cry over the phone, telling her it's going to be okay, keeping her sanity, keeping myself together, being strong. And I can't even send her a text. Because I'm weak.
I'm losing my grip on everything. There's a din in my ears. I can't breathe. I can't feel my arms. Heat swims in my head and the walls around me commence to swaying. The floorboards are caving in beneath my intemperately shaking knees. It's getting blurry and it's harder to identify whether the black splotches drifting around the room are real or not. I suspect the latter. Reality's just about as likely as hanging onto my sanity at this point. The splotches completely ingest my eyesight, and I can barely feel the left side of my face hitting the carpet before I lose it and completely succumb to the inevitable darkness.
Wesley is my brother. Wesley is almost twelve. Wesley has been dead for approximately two hours and twenty seven minutes. Wesley, the boy that would laugh at my horrible jokes before he knew why he was laughing at them. Wesley, the boy that came to me when he couldn't get around his math homework. Wesley, the boy who would crawl under my bed sheets whenever a thunderstorm hit our neighborhood. Wesley, the boy that contributed to the construction of my LEGO Death Star. Wesley, the boy that would spend hours drawing Vikings with Hazel. Wesley, the boy Lonnie, my firstborn sister, never had the chance to meet in person. Wesley, the boy in the plastery hospital bed that took my mother's hands, looked at her cooly with his deadpan eyes, and asked, "Mom, am I going to die?" Wesley, the boy that didn't have a shot at living. Wesley, the boy that I will never see again. Wesley, the boy that is, and has been, dead.
"Em?" Someone gives my shoulder a light shake. In half a second, my eyelids flit open, and I can barely make out a blurry-looking girl leaning in above me. "Em! You scared the living hell out of me! I called and..." Hazel sputters indignantly. Hazel. Here. And as the half-conscious delirium clears from my head, I gradually piece together what has happened within the past two hours. Wesley. "I called twelve times, Em! What happened?" Hazel says, holding me stiffly by the shoulders. "I don't know," I whisper. I can hardly hear anything coming out of my mouth. "I called a few times," Hazel says again, in an inept attempt to clear things up for me. "I stopped by the house to check on you. . . Lord, Emma, I thought. . . Never do that to me again, okay?" "Hazel?" "What? What is it?" She's hyperventilating at this point. "He's really gone, isn't he?" She lets her mouth fall open, and she creases her eyebrows and shuts her eyes. "Em..." Without even bothering with hesitation, she pulls me in close and lays her head against my left shoulder, because she knows that Wesley is dead, and that she won't be able to live without him. I break down in her arms, and she whispers and massages my back and strokes my hair and holds me there until the hysteria leaves my body and I'm left broken and shivering.
She sticks last night's McDonald's in the microwave and makes me eat something. She talks about mom and dad, about our grandparents, about Wesley. She video calls Lonnie, and we sit on the floor and cry together, stuffing our faces with tissues. Lonnie, still off in Florida, with three little girls of her own, coming home in a week to prep for Wesley's funeral. His funeral. Lonnie gets a notepad and makes us say at least five things we loved about him. She gets her daughters to contribute, even though they're no older than three. When she has to put the kids to bed and logs off, Hazel gets up from the floor and vacuums the matted carpet for me, sprays it down with antibacterial. I sit there, lifelessly staring at that compressed carpet, knowing that I'm just as threadbare as it once was. But watching Hazel, spraying it down and overloading the vacuum with ten years of stains and crud from leftover food, I know that this time, I have her to straighten out the mess.